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Many different types of fractures occurs in bones. One of the most typical fractures...

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Many different types of fractures occurs in bones. One of the most typical fractures that occurs is when a person uses his or her hand to block a fall before hitting the pavement. What is the name of this sort of fracture, where does it occur, and what are the correct terms used for the repair process?

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A fracture is when a bone breaks.  It can range from a total break to a hairline crack.  When a person falls on an outstretched hand to try to break their fall and subsequently fractures a bone, we commonly say that the person has a broken wrist.  This type of fracture can also occur in a car, bike, or ski accident when a person uses their hands to steady their body during a crash.

There are two bones in the human forearm: the radius and the ulna.  The when somebody "breaks their wrist," most of the time it is actually the radius bone that is fractured to some degree.  The actual medical term for this fracture is a distal radius fracture.  It is a fracture of the radius, usually near the wrist joint.  If the ulna is fractured, then the term is a distal ulna fracture.  This type of fracture is sometimes referred to as a Colles fracture after the Irish surgeon Abraham Colles who first studied it.

There are several options for treatment.  Initially, there is usually swelling at the wrist.  After taking an x-ray, if the fracture is not too bad and if the bone is not misaligned, a simply splint or cast can be used to allow the bone to naturally mend.  Sometimes the bone will require a realignment (the medical term is a reduction).  If this can be performed without cutting into the skin, it is called a closed reduction and can be performed in a non-surgical setting followed by a cast.  If the reduction is too severe and must be performed surgically, it is called an open reduction.  If the reduction is serious enough, a cast may not be enough and a metal pin or plate may be required to set the bone.  In any case, physical therapy is usually required to regain the full motion of the wrist again.


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